Sandwich School Subcommittee To Study STEM Plan
By: Michael J. Rausch
The school committee has agreed to take a hard, long look at the feasibility of launching a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) academy for 7th and 8th grade students next fall. The STEM academy, as currently proposed, would be located in a separate wing of Sandwich High School.
A subcommittee has been tasked with examining the cost associated with the STEM plan, along with how much room the academy will need and possible courses of study.
The school committee voted 6-1 Wednesday to moved forward with this next step. Robert P. Catalini was the only committee member to vote against the motion. He said that Superintendent C. Richard Canfield was moving too quickly in trying to get the academy opened by next fall.
“Personally, I think that September 2013 is too soon; I think it’s rushed, I think it’s a change of tremendous magnitude,” he told the committee.
Mr. Catalini told his fellow board members that while he is not opposed to the STEM concept, he feels there should be a greater investment of time in the planning process.
“If it’s not planned properly, and executed to the nth degree, then there could be problems,” he said.
Mr. Catalini also noted that it appeared to him that part of the motivation in launching the academy early is to address declining enrollment in the Sandwich schools.
He made the case against moving too fast with the academy by pointing out the recent exemplary MCAS results, as presented by the school district’s principals and program coordinators earlier in the meeting. He argued that the numbers show steady improvement in the quality of education Sandwich public schools offer, which he is confident will lead to less students choosing to go to school outside Sandwich.
“If everybody tries to achieve excellence, and we heard so much of that tonight with these presentations,
I’m honestly not that worried about declining enrollment,” he said.
Nancy A. Crossman said that the committee needs to be very concerned with declining enrollment because loss of students means a loss of programs.
“The cost of doing nothing, not in terms of brick and mortar, but in education of students, I think is too high not to even consider doing this,” she said. Ms. Crossman also pointed out that Dr. Canfield already acknowledged that if during its planning phase a roadblock comes up that the committee cannot address, the STEM project would be pushed back a year. She also argued in favor of the motion saying that the committee needs to select a target date for making a decision whether to move forward or not, “and we can’t do that without planning.”
Marie A. Kangas said that a STEM academy will mean change, but “not of a tremendous magnitude.”
Ms. Kangas also said that she does not believe next year is too soon. She pointed out that the inquiry-based learning techniques that would be part of a STEM academy education are already being used in the K-8 schools.
“It’s already happening, no big change there,” she said.
Mr. Catalini returned to his main argument that he did not understand the rush to begin a STEM academy.
He said that the committee was originally presented with five options for addressing the problem of aging school buildings in the district. He noted that options one through four, which involved major renovations to the K-8 schools, were dismissed as being financially unfeasible, but that option five was never fully discussed. Under option five, the Henry T. Wing School would be closed, Forestdale and Oak Ridge turned into K-6 schools and all grades 7 and 8 brought to the high school. Over the summer, Dr. Canfield introduced a sixth option that involved keeping the Wing School open, at least for the time being, and moving the 7th and 8th grades from all three schools into a STEM academy at the high school. Mr. Catalini said that since option six was introduced, there has been no further discussion of option five.
“Options mean choices and all I see in front of us is a plan; call it option six but it is a plan, and that’s where the options start and finish,” he said, further arguing that if option six is the board’s only plan, execution is paramount and September 2013 is too aggressive a target date.
Dr. Canfield admitted that when option five was first proposed to him, he was “all gung ho” for it. His perspective changed when enrollment numbers for this year at the high school came in lower than expected, he said, arguing in favor of the STEM academy’s ability to keep students in the Sandwich School District. The superintendent also said that he was not in favor of “warehousing” or simply moving students from one building to another. He said that the establishment of the STEM academy as “a school within a school” offers a better educational alternative.
School committee chairman Andrea M. Killion agreed that warehousing students is a bad idea. She called Dr. Canfield’s option six “a nice balance” that addresses that issue as well as the issue of declining enrollment, while moving the school district forward “with good curriculum and instruction.”
Committee member Travis A. Andrade spoke in favor of the motion, saying that he has personally seen such endeavors as installing the STEM academy by next fall accomplished. He pointed out to the committee that he is on the faculty at the Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis, and that in the past year the school built an entire new building, Sturgis West.
“We didn’t even cut a single tree down until January, and we had a brand new school by September,” he said. He noted that there are a lot of concerns and questions among the public that need to be addressed and answered, but he is confident the academy can be in place for the 2013 school year.
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